5 Queer and Trans Singer-Songwriters Changing the World
Queer and trans singer-songwriters helped make the music world as diverse as it is today. Here are 5 you need to check out.
There are a lot of wonderful musicians out there, but the mainstream hasn’t yet embraced the brilliant queer and trans singer-songwriters who are so vital to the core of music.
The singer-songwriter tradition transcends time, with narrative lyrics that tell a story or maybe reflect personal, emotional battles. Singer-songwriters are not just bound by one genre, although they are credited with starting the folk and blues traditions. They have since branched out to every part of the musical landscape.
This week, we explore this rich tradition by highlighting five brilliant queer and trans singer-songwriters of various genres.
1. Hurray For The Riff Raff
Alynda Segarra and her band Hurray For The Riff Raff embrace the queer label. Puerto Rican-American songwriter Segarra was a train-hopping crust kid who found her voice through folk music. This month, the band released The Navigator, which reflects upon intuition and desire for freedom, as well as Segarra’s exploration of her Puerto Rican and punk roots.
Recommended is the track “Pa’lante,” which is a Spanish affirmation that means “onwards, forwards.” The title was borrowed from a community paper run by the Young Lords, a Puerto Rican community activist group from the ’70s with deeply feminist and intersectional roots.
2. Ataru Nakamura
Ataru Nakamura is a trans Japanese singer-songwriter whose sound fluctuates between two styles, J-Pop and enka, a traditional Japanese form.
“Tomodachi no Uta” became the theme for the popular Japanese primetime drama, Watashi ga Watashi de Aru Tame ni, a show about a young trans woman. Nakamura made her acting debut with a cameo on the program. This enka-influenced song is a beautiful and maturely written goodbye to her friends in junior high, penned in 2006 when the artist was 14:
3. Chanticleer Tru
Chanticleer Tru fronted Portland’s soul-punk band Magic Mouth, and now creates an incredibly danceable hybrid of soul, disco and R&B under the moniker Chanti Darling. Both bands possess a deeply punk spirit with in-the-pocket grooves — and they play extremely important roles in the evolving Northwest music scene.
“The lyrics is ‘no no no way I can live.’ It’s just talking about growing up as a queer black person in this country,” Carribbean-born Tru says of the song “Chiffon and Silver.” “I grew up and I had parents that told me that this is something that you can do, (but) you can’t do this because you’re black and people are going to say this. You need to stop doing that because you can’t be a faggot. And so the song talks about that moment where I made a decision (that) I was not going to live that way. The lyric is “And I don’t know what’s come over me.” I say that a few times and I really didn’t know what came over me. That’s what a lot of our songs are really about. It gets real. It’s political, but it’s danceable.”
“It’s all about connecting and that connection is all about truth. As different as we are and as varied as our backgrounds are, there’s this human connection that is always there. There’s a lot more similarities than we let on a lot of the time,” Tru says. “All of that is just like really special to share with our audience.”
4. Evan Greer
Evan Greer is a Boston-based musician with folk-punk background and roots in activism and community development. “I travel the world playing high-energy music for social change and connecting with communities who are resisting oppression,” Greer says of her life. Greer tours internationally as a musician and speaker and facilitates interactive workshops to support movements for justice and liberation.
Greer’s music falls somewhere between the activist tradition of Phil Ochs, the folk-punk of Laura Jane Grace and the storytelling modern indie folk of The Mountain Goats.
5. Joe Stevens
Joe Stevens is a transgender singer-songwriter originally from Sacramento — and comes from a long line of singer-songwriters. Between 2006 and 2012, Stevens’ first band, Coyote Grace, released five albums and toured with seminal queer musicians Indigo Girls, Melissa Ferrick and Girlyman, developing a bit of a cult following in the process, since he was part of the first wave of queer and trans performers who helped create a more open culture. Stevens and Coyote Grace taught workshops as well as making music, truly honoring the human aspect of the folk tradition in the process.
Stevens is currently touring to support Real Boy, a film about a transgender teenager “searching for his voice as a musician, friend, son, and a man.”